Over this past year I've gone to several art exhibitions that, during the course of their runs, turned into high-profile "must see" events. Consequently, the exhibitions developed long waiting lines, which became stories themselves, which in turn generated even longer lines, and stories and social media moaning-and-groaning about the lines.
Of course part of this might have to do with holding any public event in New York, but I think there's a bit more to it than that. How do people do the internal calculus to determine whether something is worth waiting in line for (sometimes for several hours)?
"Rain Room" was a temporary exhibition by Random International at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Your wait in line was for one thing only, the Rain Room. So you either made the commitment or not. The good news was, that once you were inside Rain Room you could stay as long as you wanted --- or as long as you dared with the anxious eyes of the next batch of visitors on you. (At least those were the rules at the beginning, more about that below.)
Although there were ways to decrease your Rain Room wait time. One was to be rich and/or famous enough. Occasionally, you'd see some sleek people whisked inside past the waiting throngs, but it didn't happen very often. (And also it didn't work for every rich and/or famous person: one staff member remarked that both Faye Dunaway and the Sultan of Brunei didn't make the grade on a previous day. Ouch!)
The most popular way to decrease the Rain Room wait was to become a MoMA member --- it gave you preferential viewing times as well as shorter wait times than the general public. I'm sure MoMA's membership sales greatly increased during Rain Room! I ended up buying a family membership, and went to see Rain Room twice: the first time with a friend (before school let out) and we waited less than 90 minutes, the second time with my family (after school let out and closer to the end of the Rain Room run) which was nearer a three hour wait.
In both cases, everyone I went with agreed it was worth the wait (even though the wait itself was not enjoyable.) I think waiting to see an unsual site-specific event/experience (Rain Room was built in a completely new structure on the street next to MoMA) as well as a social media campaign by MoMA that encouraged photography, tweeting, and tagging inside Rain Room gave people the fortitude to put up with the long waits. There was not quite the opportunity to say "I can come back to see this some other time."
Near the end of Rain Room's Run, perhaps due to even longer lines, perhaps due to the volume of complaints, MoMA built a little fenced-off runway inside the installation so people could walk through without really stopping or interacting at all. But at least they could say they saw the Rain Room. (Although that's a bit like going to a hands-on museum like the Exploratorium and walking through without touching anything!)
A slightly different type of line-waiting art experience was the Yayoi Kusama show entitled, "I Who Have Arrived In Heaven" at the David Zwirner Gallery in Manhattan. This was a show of two different "infinity rooms" (installations using mirrors, lighting, and objects to create the illusion of infinite or expanded space) as well as galleries of Kusama's paintings. Essentially there were no lines to see the painting galleries (and very few people inside.) There was a short wait (under an hour) to see the infinity room entitled "Love is Calling" (pictured with Kusama herself below) but nearly six hour waits to see the infinity room designed for this particular show (called Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.)
Almost every news story about the Kusama show became a story about the waiting lines.
So the question is, were people visiting the Zwirner Gallery to see all the art work by Kusama, or merely to see (and take selfies inside) the infinity room that "everyone's been waiting six hours to see?" For myself and my friend we opted out of the super long wait, but did spend time inside the "Love is Calling"installation and also time viewing Kusama's wonderful paintings.
Although it felt a little sad to be one of less than a dozen people inside the painting galleries, while hundreds of people waited hours outside in the cold to ultimately get only a 40 second peek inside the "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away" piece. It felt like the Kusama paintings were superfluous to those people, that the status of getting that 40 second peek at that "thing in the news" was more important.
I kept thinking about people who wait hours in line at an amusement park for a roller coaster ride that lasts just a minute or two. It seemed like the same thing.
Or was it?
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